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Mechanical Engineering Capstone group with their project, walk-on piano
Mechanical engineering capstone team with their project, a walk on piano. (From left to right) Joanna Steele, Madelyn Dudley, Randall Mozingo, Reagan Tucker, Charlie Green and Moyinoluwa Adejumo | Image: Justin Baetge/ Texas A&M Engineering Communications

A team of mechanical engineering seniors is bringing music back to the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley by refurbishing a large walk-on piano.

As their capstone senior design project falls into a decrescendo, the team wishes to not only inspire an appreciation for music but also hopes that the distinctive mechanical characteristics stimulate a want to explore engineering as well.

“The importance of this project is to help out the people of this community,” said senior Madelyn Dudley, who is partially responsible for the fabrication of the design as well as team communication. “As a student at Texas A&M, it is sometimes hard to remember that there is so much more to the community than just the university. This is a small way that the mechanical engineering department can say thank you.”

Several years ago, students from the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University created the piano for the museum, serving as an interactive way to expose children to music. By utilizing pressure sensors, a child can step on a piano key, and the corresponding key plays music. After years of excited children bouncing on the keys, the piano has several parts that no longer function.

Group members working on the piano
Reagan Tucker and Moyinoluwa Adejumo working on the piano | Image: Justin Baetge/ Texas A&M Engineering Communications

The mechanical engineering department used this as an opportunity for a new group of students to develop their skills. Along with Dudley, the team includes Randall Mozingo, Charlie Green, Reagan Tucker, Etoroabasi Nwoko, Joanna Steele and Moyinoluwa Adejumo.

Assigned as a capstone senior design project and funded by an endowment from the department’s namesake, Dr. J. Mike Walker, the team of seven students are responsible for reconstructing the piano in a way that provides more durability. Realizing that the pressure sensors would only work for short time periods, it became evident that a whole new design was needed.  

“One of the main issues that we have had to overcome is trying to figure out how the old piano worked,” said Dudley. “We had to spend a lot of time planning how we wanted everything to be laid out.”

Walk-on piano
Piano project worked on by mechanical engineering capstone team | Image: Justin Baetge/ Texas A&M Engineering Communications

The design that hit the right notes was deemed “connecting plates.” There is one metal plate resting under each key, and the other on the floor of the tray that the key resides in. When a child steps on a key, the top plate will deflect, the two plates connect and electrical signals cue the music. As an added part of the design, the students hope they will be able to add a unique feature by having the piano keys light up when stepped on.  

The most significant design change lies within the way the piano converts energy. Rather than work through pressure, it now uses a switch-like function, which the team believes will be more suitable for the environment the piano is in.

“We are changing the way that the piano actuates energy—how the piano detects someone stepping on a key and turning that into a sound and light response,” Dudley said.  “We have redesigned the piano to use a switch-like function, which we are expecting to last much longer. We have also designed a code that enables the piano to hold notes as long as a child stays on the key, which was not the case beforehand.”

The team plans to have the piano fully functioning and back at the museum by the end of March.

For more information about the senior capstone design program or to sponsor a future capstone project, email Dr. Joanna Tsenn at joanna.tsenn@tamu.edu.